The best question I was asked before sending my oldest to college

In the months leading up to my oldest child’s departure for college, I’ve been consumed with emotions and lengthy lists.

The fact that I’ve got lists should come as no surprise. I’ve got lists of items I need to purchase for her, tasks to get done, and wisdom to impart (all the things I’m sure I never taught her!). I suppose the emotions should be expected, too. (Note to the wise: do not purchase the airplane ticket for firstborn’s college departure when premenstrual; extreme risk to computer keyboard.) Yet in all the activity and tears, a single question has proved to be the most helpful in preparing me for this emotional milestone. 


The question came over coffee with a friend who has already walked this road with both of her children. (I’m so grateful to share life with those who are a few steps ahead of me.) Here’s the gem she handed me last May:

How will your home dynamics change as a result of her absence?


Once I could recover from the “kicked in the gut” feeling that resulted from the question, I gave pause to reflect. I summoned a quick answer for the purpose of our conversation but realized I would need to ruminate on it further.


Thinking on it has been one of the most useful exercises in the recent days and months.


Having the question asked so far in advance allowed me to cherish my daughter’s presence even more in the last few months… to appreciate the balm she is to rough waters as our resident peacemaker. I’ve allowed myself to be filled with her tender nurturing, knowing that attribute goes with her as an offering to her roommate, teammates, and new friends.


The question afforded me the opportunity to anticipate, and therefore plan for, the gaps her absence opens. While my temperament is wholly different from hers, my reflections have grown an awareness in me that I will need to find ways to offer more of what comes naturally to her to the rest of our family. And that I will need to lean into others–friends and family–to have those needs met for myself in the wake of her departure.


If you’re standing at this crossroads with me, I hope these words will be helpful to you, too, as we step into these uncharted waters. It’s a tumultuous time of being filled with both grief in missing them and elation at their growth into this step. In the midst of such change, we can take solace in God’s continued work in their lives:


And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. –Philippians 1:6 ESV

What have been the best bits of advice, or best questions that helped you with this transition?


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